It is not often that both sides of the abortion debate find themselves in agreement, but a story currently making the rounds has both pro-life and women’s rights groups up in arms. According to news reports, a rape survivor seeking asylum in Canada had her application turned down by a judge who expressed doubt that the woman had been raped, because she refused an abortion. The immigration judge apparently could not understand why a rape victim would keep a baby, arguing “the claimant’s explanation does not make sense as to why she would keep a child who would remind her of being raped, unless that is not the case.” The judge stated she expected the woman would have sought help from medical professionals after her rape, “if, indeed, it took place.”
The story has rightly caused outrage across the board—women’s rights groups are appalled at the ignorance and insensitivity with which a vulnerable woman has been treated, pro-life groups are upset at the assumption that a rape victim would choose to abort her child.
Quite correctly, the story has been used to highlight the fact that immigration judges may be too reliant upon myths and assumptions about gender-based violence to be capable of making fair decisions in such cases. However, amid all the outrage, there has been a general unwillingness to face the central problem highlighted by this case. While one commentator pointed out the ignorance of the judge on subjects such as abortion access, the point of this case is that the woman did not want an abortion in the first place. She said that she was against abortion; like so many rape survivors who carry their babies to term, she had a strong conviction that her baby had a right to life. Canada, a country that justifies its permissive abortion laws on the grounds of defending a woman’s right to choose, used a pro-life woman’s choice against her. Worse, the judge did not even consider that a rape victim would do anything other than have an abortion—even though the facts and figures themselves paint a very different picture of pregnancy outcomes following rape.
This case should serve as a warning against the relentless use of hard-case rhetoric to justify abortion. Ignorance certainly played a part in the harsh judgement made against this anonymous woman, but abortion apologists must also shoulder some share of the blame. The horror of rape is routinely used to justify abortion, but few abortion campaigners are shy about admitting that they want abortion on demand under all circumstances. Whereas it is fairly common to hear the statement, “I’m pro-life except in cases of rape and incest,” in 15 years of activism, I have never come across a single pro-abortion campaigner who believes that abortion is acceptable exclusively in cases of rape. Such a position goes against a central tenet of abortion ideology—that abortion is a choice that should not need to be justified by circumstances. It is therefore dishonest and emotionally manipulative to use rape as a justification for abortion, when rape victims have never been the primary concern of the abortion lobby.
It was not until I heard pro-life activist Rebecca Kiessling speak about her discovery that her birth mother had been the victim of an armed rape that it occurred to me how stigmatizing the “abortion in case of rape” argument is for secondary victims of rape—those who were conceived that way. Thanks to hard-case rhetoric, a subsection of the population is repeatedly given the message that they deserved the death penalty because of the crimes of their fathers. No one can choose how they came into being, but these days it is regarded as old-fashioned and judgmental to punish a child for being illegitimate, for example, whilst the dehumanizing label of “the rapist’s child” is still, apparently, acceptable.
According to studies, the majority of women who become pregnant through rape carry their babies to term (some put the number at around 50 percent, others over 70 percent), and the majority of rape survivors who have abortions later regret them. This is certainly not the picture given by the abortion lobby; the ingrained belief that rape victims inevitably choose abortion could be successfully challenged if the survivors were permitted to speak for themselves. As always, that it the problem—women are rarely given a voice within the abortion debate if they refuse to read from the predetermined script. During the infamous Irish Abortion Referendum, two guardians of women’s empowerment from People Before Profit posted photographs of themselves tearing down posters advertising a public meeting organised by the rape survivors’ group Unbroken. A spokeswoman for Unbroken, asked the question: “Is this the 19th century where aggressive men feel they can tear down our message and abuse us for sharing our experiences and having a point of view?” No, it’s the 21st century, where aggressive men and ideologically driven women can deny rape survivors a voice, perpetuating the myth that “real” rape victims have abortions and those who don’t are liars.
If the abortion lobby stopped using the pain of rape to forward its own agenda, if rape survivors who choose life were allowed to speak for themselves instead of being shamed and bullied into silence, women like this anonymous asylum-seeker would not find themselves being punished for defiantly giving birth. As Kathleen DeZeeuw protested years ago: “I, having lived through rape and also having raised a child ‘conceived in rape’ feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest. I feel that we’re being used to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side of the story.”
I can think of no better way to educate Canada’s immigration judges (and the wider population) than to give unlimited airtime to rape survivors and their children on every major news outlet across Canada. Let’s see how open-minded the Canadian media really are.
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